Originally built as the Church of Ste. Genevieve, the Neoclassical Panthéon is the burial place of some of France’s famous people, such as Voltaire, Emile Zola, Marie Curie and Louis Braille. It’s located on the Left Bank near the Luxembourg Gardens at the top of the rue Soufflot at Place de la Panthéon.
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The Jardin du Luxembourg is one of the largest public gardens in the city, and a very pleasant formal garden to while away a quiet hour or so. The beautiful former Palais du Luxembourg facing the gardens now houses the French Senate. There’s also a Museum which hosts temporary exhibitions, which are usually based on Italian Renaissance themes—in homage to the palace’s founder, Marie de Médici.
The rue de Médicis on the perimeter of the Jardin, at the Palais end, has a couple of lovely little shops worth a browse if you’re in the area.
The Jardin des Plantes, the city’s botanical gardens, is a beautiful, peaceful haven that’s well worth exploring particularly on quiet Sunday mornings. There are various large glass houses with rare botanical specimens and plants, and the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle is also located within the grounds.
Just across the road from one of the entrances to the Jardin des Plantes, at 39 rue Geoffroy-St-Hilaire, corner of rue Daubenton that runs off rue Monge, is the Paris Mosque, La Mosquée de Paris. Now, this is no ordinary Mosque. Inaugurated in 1926, its construction was sponsored by the French Government as a ‘thank you’ to the North African colonies that fought for France in WW1. Architecturally, it is in the Mudéjar style with a minaret adjoining, built in white stucco with timber carved detailing, decorative plaster and wrought ironwork. All this is set in exquisite, Moorish-style gardens and mosaic-decorated courtyards and patios, constructed by master artisans brought in especially from Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. A highlight is the café/restaurant in and around the courtyard, with beautifully decorated rooms furnished in Moroccan style. A touch of Marrakech in Paris!
The restaurant in the Mosque complex serves a terrific lunch. It’s highly popular with Parisians who come from all over the city to enjoy their fragrant couscous dishes, desserts and mint tea. The salads are among the best and freshest. Friendly and very welcoming staff, guided tours are also offered. There is a €3 charge to explore the whole complex, although non-Muslims are not permitted into the Prayer Hall itself. Open daily except Fridays and Muslim holidays. The restaurant is called the Muslim Restaurant de la Mosquée de Paris. The restaurant is open daily from noon to 3pm and 7pm to 10:30pm. A truly delightful experience—perfect for a Sunday after a stroll through the Jardin des Plantes.
All the little streets running off bvd St Germain in the direction of the Odéon, the areas around the Churches of St Severin and St Julien le Pauvre, (these are venues for quality, inexpensive concerts—keep an eye out for posters) and bvd St Michel etc., can be explored in detail only on foot.
Shakespeare & Company bookshop. This is a Paris institution. A wonderful, treasure-trove in a ramshackle building filled with mostly second-hand books but also new and antiquarian books as well. They also have regular readings by writers and poets. It’s a seductive place to while away many hours. Located on the Left Bank, opposite Notre Dame, near the square of the Church of St Julien le Pauvre, at 37 rue de la Bucherie. Open every day from noon to midnight.